The Null Device


A few stories from the US elections:

  • Barack Obama's acceptance speech. And here is McCain's concession speech; and a gracious and dignified one it is too.
  • It seems that prejudice against less-religious folks no longer cuts it in the US; North Carolina Republican senator Elizabeth Dole lost to a relatively unknown Democrat challenger, Kay Hagan, after an attack ad accusing Hagan of being the choice of the "Godless" backfired spectacularly.
  • Prejudice against gays, alas, is alive and well in California, with a ballot proposition amending the constitution to ban non-heterosexual marriage looking set to pass narrowly. I wouldn't have a problem with this, as long as couples civil unions had exactly the same rights and responsibilities as married™ ones—and such civil unions were available to heterosexuals. If religious traditionalists want to claim marriage as a trademark, that would be fine as long as those who don't agree with their agendas can opt out. At present, though, this discriminates against not only against gays but also against heterosexuals who don't wish to be lumped in with the bigots.
  • It's not all doom and gloom in California, though, with the proposed high-speed rail link between LA and San Francisco looking set to win approval. The proposal to rename a San Francisco sewage plant after George W. Bush, however, didn't pass.
Also, last night's BBC coverage of the election count was pretty gripping. Especially when they got neoconservative hawk John Bolton in. Bolton, a gentleman with the appearance of a retired British Army colonel and the persona of an pugnacious cowboy, seemed to gradually fall apart as the bad news came in, and started lashing out at people (at one point calling on the BBC to sack one of its reporters for not knowing enough about the electoral history of Colorado). Then, fellow panelist and historian Simon Schama pointed out that the Republican Party had shrunk to the old Confederacy, and Bolton looked as if he might have a fit. I wonder whether the BBC chose him precisely for his amusement value.

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Barack Obama wins the US Presidency, by a landslide. The electoral college vote count currently stands at 349 to McCain's 162, with several states still in doubt. The Democrats also have gained seats in the Senate, though appear to fall short of a "supermajority", which would make them unbeatable.

One shouldn't be too hopeful; Obama is, after all, a politician and a pragmatic centrist (unless you're a FOXNews commentator, in which case he's the Antichrist and Fidel Castro rolled into one). His victory isn't going to bring free ice-cream and ponies for everyone, turn America into Sweden, or magic away all the problems that have been building up. And there are a lot of problems: the Bush administrations have wiped out America's reserves of money (turning Clinton's surpluses to a record-breaking deficit), public image and good will, and left an Augean stable overflowing with shit. The incoming President's labours will truly be Herculaean.

Having said that, there is reason to be optimistic, because, after eight years, America will have a president who's forward-looking, pragmatic and competent. Actually, even if he's merely competent and not too crooked, that will be a tremendous improvement over the Bush era. I don't expect profound transformations, though it looks like Obama will move things along in the right direction.

And then there's the fact that America elected a black president by a huge margin. The feared "Bradley effect" (voters telling pollsters they'd vote for Obama but not actually doing so due to racism) failed to materialise. This is about change, but more a confirmation of change that has happened. (Remember when, in the 1990s, Bill Clinton was hailed as "the first black President"? Doesn't that now seem like a cringeworthy relic of a more bigoted age, like lawn-negro statues and actors in blackface makeup? And so, the age of grunge and the WIRED Long Boom is now consigned to the dusty museum of the more-racist past.) The psychological and cultural effects of this (and, it must be said to give credit where it's due, of Bush's appointment of Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, though this takes it to a new level) on issues race in America could be profound. Today's young Afro-Americans can aspire to be President (traditionally the whitest of posts), which could be a death blow for the belief that certain forms of success are too "white" to countenance and constitute "selling out".

Now let's just hope that nobody manages to assassinate Obama; given some of the vitriol seen during the campaign, it's a worrying possibility.

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